United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
NANNETTE A. BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review
of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision
denying Christina Clark's application for supplemental
security income under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§ 416 et seq. Clark alleged disability due to
depression. (Tr. 146.) The parties have consented to the
exercise of authority by the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). [Doc.
8.] The Court has reviewed the parties' briefs and the
entire administrative record, including the hearing
transcripts and the medical evidence. The Court heard oral
argument in this matter on March 8, 2018. Because the
ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence,
the Court will reverse and remand this action for further
presents one issue for review. She asserts that the
administrative law judge's (“ALJ”) residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) determination was not
supported by substantial evidence, because the ALJ did not
properly weigh the medical opinions of consultative examiner
Dr. Thomas Spencer and her treating doctor Dr. Melissa Jones.
The Commissioner asserts that the ALJ's decision is
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole
and should be affirmed.
Standard of Review
Social Security Act defines disability as an “inability
to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of
any medically determinable physical or mental impairment
which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(1)(A).
standard of review is narrow. Pearsall v. Massanari,
274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001). This Court reviews
decisions of the ALJ to determine whether the decision is
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is less than a
preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find
adequate support for the ALJ's decision. Smith v.
Shalala, 31 F.3d 715, 717 (8th Cir. 1994). The court
determines whether evidence is substantial by considering
evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision
as well as evidence that supports it. Cox v.
Barnhart, 471 F.3d 902, 906 (8th Cir. 2006). The Court
may not reverse just because substantial evidence exists that
would support a contrary outcome or because the Court would
have decided the case differently. Id. If, after
reviewing the record as a whole, the Court finds it possible
to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one
of those positions represents the Commissioner's finding,
the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed.
Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 736 (8th Cir.
2004). The Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision
so long as it conforms to the law and is supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Collins ex
rel. Williams v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 726, 729 (8th Cir.
contends that the ALJ's RFC determination and disability
determination are not supported by substantial evidence,
because the ALJ improperly discounted the opinion of the
consultative examiner and her treating physician. The RFC is
defined as what the claimant can do despite his or her
limitations, and includes an assessment of physical abilities
and mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a). The RFC
is a function-by-function assessment of an individual's
ability to do work related activities on a regular and
continuing basis. SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *1 (July 2,
1996). It is the ALJ's responsibility to determine the
claimant's RFC based on all relevant evidence, including
medical records, observations of treating physicians and the
claimant's own descriptions of his limitations.
Pearsall, 274 F.3d at 1217. An RFC determination
made by an ALJ will be upheld if it is supported by
substantial evidence in the record. See Cox, 471
F.3d at 907.
case, the ALJ found that Clark had the severe impairments of
“anxiety/depression/bipolar disorder, body dysmorphic
disorder, and obesity.” (Tr. 18.) He found that she had
the RFC to perform the full range of sedentary work with the
following non-exertional limitations: no exposure to work
hazards; limited to simple unskilled work with no contact
with the general public and only occasional contact with
co-workers and supervisors. (Tr. 20.) In formulating the RFC,
the ALJ reviewed several medical opinions regarding
Clark's mental health impairments. Medical opinions are
statements from physicians and psychologists or other
acceptable medical sources that reflect judgments about the
nature and severity of a claimant's impairments,
including symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis, and what the
claimant can still do despite impairments and physical or
mental restrictions. 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(a)(2). All medical opinions, regardless of the
source, are weighed based on (1) whether the provider
examined the claimant; (2) whether the provider is a treating
source; (3) length of treatment relationship and frequency of
examination, including nature and extent of the treatment
relationship; (4) supportability of opinion with medical
signs, laboratory findings, and explanation; (5) consistency
with the record as a whole; (6) specialization; and (7) other
factors which tend to support or contradict the opinion. 20
C.F.R. § 416.927(c).
Spencer, a state agency psychologist, and Dr. Jones,
Clark's treating physician both prepared written medical
opinions regarding Clark's mental health. (Tr. 267-70,
677-78.) The ALJ gave partial weight to Dr. Spencer's
opinion and little weight to Dr. Jones' opinion. The
Court will now address the ALJ's evaluation of each
Spencer, a licensed psychologist, was hired by the Social
Security Administration to conduct a psychological
examination of Clark. The evaluation took place on March 6,
2014. (Tr. 267-270.) Dr. Spencer reported that Clark's
mental status examination indicated that she had fair eye
contact, mildly pressured and loud speech, and she fidgeted.
(Tr. 269). He noted that she cooperated and was a decent
historian. (Tr. 269.) Her insight and judgment were fairly
intact. (Tr. 269.) He described her as anxious. (Tr. 269.)
During the examination, she denied suicidal and homicidal
thoughts and was alert to person, time, place, and event.
(Tr. 269.) He did not observe her responding to internal
stimuli and no delusional beliefs were elicited. (Tr. 269.)
He described her flow of thought as intact and relevant. (Tr.
269.) Dr. Spencer stated that based on her vocabulary,
grammar, and general fund of knowledge, Clark appeared to be
low average to average intelligence. (Tr. 269.) Dr. Spencer
diagnosed Clark with generalized anxiety disorder and
depressive disorder not otherwise specified. (Tr. 269.) He
opined that she retained the ability to understand and
remember simple to moderately complex instructions and the
ability to engage in and persist with simple moderately
complex tasks. (Tr. 270.) He also opined that she
demonstrated mild to moderate impairment in her ability to
interact socially and in her ability to adapt to changes in
the workplace. (Tr. 270.)
agency medical and psychological consultants and other
program physicians, psychologists, and other medical
specialists are highly qualified physicians, psychologists,
and other medical specialists who are also experts in Social
Security disability evaluation.” 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(e)(2)(i). “Therefore, administrative law judges
must consider findings and other opinions of State agency
medical and psychological consultants and other program
physicians, psychologists, and other medical specialists as
opinion evidence, except for the ultimate determination about
whether a claimant is disabled.” Id. Unless
the claimant's treating source is given controlling
weight, the administrative law judge must explain the weight
given to the opinions of a ...